Growing and cooking in harmony with the seasons, as I am trying to do, is based upon the fundamental recognition that no crop has a year-long life cycle. Of course, a wander up and down the fruit and vegetable aisles in our local supermarkets would suggest completely the opposite. There, fruit such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries appear to be in magical, perpetual supply, despite the reality of their relatively short seasons.
Cooking by the seasons not only has an inherent logic – seasonal food tends to be locally produced, fresher and more nutritious – it is also a philosophy which shines a light through the bleak and murky economics of the modern food industry.
That industry, which purports to provide us with greater choice instead gives us less.
It cuts us adrift from the source of the food we eat and, en route to our shopping trollies, the food it supplies brings with it a lot of uncomfortable ethical baggage – air miles, road transport, plastic packaging, pesticides and fungicides, loss of variety and in some cases devastating environmental damage and truly shameful working conditions.
Cooking by the seasons is of course a much easier propositions during these fine days of summer (traditionally known as “the time of plenty“) than it is during the bleak months of winter and early spring (“the hungry gap”). But already some vegetables have come and gone on my allotment, the Circus Garden – for example, asparagus, peas and broad beans. The soft fruit season is now also waning. Whilst I still have copious amounts of red and black currants to harvest, the strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and loganberry seasons are now in decline and instead of the flood of these fruits I seemed to be bringing back just a couple of weeks ago I’m now coming home with a mere trickle by comparison.
This recipe came about as a result of the desire to make something out of this dwindling harvest using the small quantities of various soft fruit I had brought back from the allotment one night. It’s a dessert which is relatively simple to put together, and despite being beautifully fruity and creamy is also surprisingly light. It would make an impressive dinner party dessert.
summer fruits creme brulee
275g mixed summer fruits (I used predominantly raspberries and strawberries, supplemented with blueberries, loganberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants)
1 vanilla pod
5 organic free range egg yolks (the whites can be used for meringue or a light omelette)
450ml double cream
75g caster sugar
20g Demerara sugar
1. Lightly butter six ramekins. Place the fruit in the ramekins, dividing it evenly amongst them.
2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the bowl with the eggs and sugar. Whisk to combine and continue to whisk for a further 2-3 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
3. Preheat the oven to 150˚C (gas no. 2). Pour the double cream into a saucepan over a medium heat. As it reaches the boil, carefully and slowly pour it onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking the mixture as you do to make a thin custard. Leave for a few minutes to cool slightly before gently pouring the custard over the fruit in the ramekins, again dividing the custard evenly amongst them.
4. Place the ramekins in a roasting tin with high sides. Carefully pour boiling water into the tray until it reaches half way up the ramekins. Carefully place the roasting tin in the preheated oven and cook the creme brulees for about 35 minutes, or until just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Once cool, place the ramekins in the fridge until required.
4. When you are ready to serve, bring the brulees out of the fridge and sprinkle the Demarara sugar evenly across the top of each custard. Use a blow torch to harden and caramelise the top of each brulee (alternatively place them for a couple of minutes under a pre-heated very hot grill). Leave to cool for a few minutes before serving.